Community College Biotechnology programs and K12 outreach

Over the years, I've seen many biotechnology education programs at community colleges embrace outreach to high schools as part of their mission. This kind of enthusiasm for outreach seems unique to biotech. No other kind of science or engineering program seems to do this sort of thing, at least not on the nationwide basis that I've seen demonstrated in biotechnology.

And yet, even though I've always admired and often participated in these efforts, some aspects are a little puzzling.

How do the colleges reconcile the energy spent in outreach efforts with the energy spent towards educating their own students?

However noble, it's hard to see how the K12 outreach efforts serve the students who attend community college.


Long Branch, New Jersey

Dr. Elaine Johnson, the keynote speaker, at the NJBEC conference last weekend, brought that point home when she spoke at Monmouth University about community college students across the nation.

Johnson stated that 70% of the students attending community colleges are non-traditional. The average student community college student is over 23, independent of parental financial support, and seeking training that will apply to a job. The American Association of Community Colleges has more data supporting the notion that community college students are usually adults, and also very ethnically diverse.

Student populations will vary of course, depending on location. Some colleges will have a greater number of younger students, some will have more adults, but nationally, community colleges are likely to have a larger number of adult students looking for retraining.

The heart of the conflict is that adult students and the younger traditional students have different needs. Adult students need quick, often intensive, applied courses, so they can get to work quickly. The younger students, however, want courses that will transfer to four-year colleges and universities. This is where most of the problems come in. Courses that are designed to prepare students for a job, often do not have University equivalents and will not transfer as they should.

One of our biggest dilemmas at Seattle Central Community College (SCCC) was how to resolve the needs of the students who wanted to transfer with the students already had a degree and wanted the hands-on skills they needed to get a job. SCCC never did solve that problem. Our college had so many requirements for a transfer degree that any science program would take five, or more, years to complete.

At our college, we hoped that our K12 outreach efforts would increase our enrollment. In my experience, this never happened. Only one student came to us directly from a high school program during my ten years at SCCC.

Clearly, if a community college wants to engage in K12 outreach, the school must do so, not because it wants to increase enrollments, but because it values the less tangible goal of serving the entire community.


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I just learned a lot from this entry, especially about the outreach statistics. I am preparing for an interview to run the French department in SLC- a department that needs more enrollment in order to run enough classes to meet our students' scheduling needs. Reading about the non-traditional needs of typical community college students hits home as we face similar dilemmas. Interesting that outreach by the college doesn't seem to work. I feel I should just skip this step now... are you saying that the high school needs to promote community college classes? And from the standpoint of serving the entire community? I would like to hear more about what you think about recruitment that way. Thanks, Suzi

By Suzi Montgomery (not verified) on 01 Jun 2010 #permalink

Hi Suzi,

The take home message here is that outreach to high schools does not guarantee that you will fill your classes at the community college.

When we look at the big picture however, outreach definitely meets a community need and that is a mission of community colleges, is it not?

Consequently, outreach does accomplish a worthy goal in terms of serving a broader community. In terms of meeting the narrow goal of increasing the number of students who enroll in community college programs, it's not so great.

One other model that people have tried is to offer joint enrollment. In those courses, students enroll in a college course and get credit at both the college and the high school. These options are nice since the high school can offer a wider selection of courses and the college can serve a greater number of students.

Feel free to write to me directly if you like, and good luck with your project!

Sandra Porter